Save Energy (and Cash) This Winter: Tips for Making Your Home More Efficient

Green Building


Now that the days are growing shorter and the temperatures are dropping, you’re probably looking forward to the many comforts winter has to offer—holidays with friends and family, hearty meals, and cozy evenings inside a warm house.

If you’re a homeowner, you may also be looking for ways to reduce the high monthly heating bills that inevitably come with the holiday season. Whether your home is old or new, energy efficient or deficient, there is always room to improve its ability to stay warm and cost you less money. Here are a few basic but effective tips to help you save energy this winter, plus some myths you’re probably better off ignoring.

  1. Light Your House Longer, For Less:

Early sunsets and cold temps drive most of us indoors for longer periods of time during winter. The obvious result is that we use more energy lighting our home—which is why we’re starting off our list with one of the easiest, most cost-effective innovations in recent history: the LED light bulb. Don’t believe us? Here’s what the US Department of Energy says about them:

  • LED bulbs can be up to 67% more energy efficient than conventional incandescent light bulbs
  • Replacing conventional bulbs with LED bulbs can reduce overall home energy use by up to 80%
  • LED light bulbs typically last 25,000 hours—that’s more than 25 times longer than conventional bulbs

Plus, for those who use exterior holiday decorations, colored string-lights are now commonly made with LED. Manufacturer estimates claim that a 100-ft string of incandescent lights costs up to 90X the energy to power than its LED equivalent. Consider replacing old tree and house lights to see an even greater savings.

 

  1. Stay on Top of Furnace Health:

It only makes sense that in order to heat your home, your furnace or heat pump must work properly. Simply put, the better it works, the less work it has to do. Keep alert for the following signals that your furnace might not be working efficiently:

  • Weak air flow: Warm air should emit from registers at a strong, fast rate. Weakened or reduced air flow can indicate a clogged air filter, a flaw in the duct-work such as a break or gap, or possibly a failing blower motor.
  • Cold air flow: This can potentially signal a problem with the pilot light/ignition, an inadequate gas supply, or major leaks in the duct system. All three issues will require professional help in order to fix.
  • Near-constant cycling: if your furnace is pumping non-stop through the night, it’s working too hard and may need replacing. There are, however, other possible causes that are less expensive to fix. A professional diagnosis is your first step to addressing this issue.

To ensure that your furnace is working efficiently (and to prevent a disaster in the middle of winter), hire a technician to perform a diagnostics test BEFORE the cold weather sets in. An inspection will reveal broken or worn-out components and will ensure that your thermostat is correctly set. HVAC experts recommend having your furnace inspected twice every year for best performance—once for A/C, once for Heat.

  1. Get Real About Conservation:

The hard truth is that, while energy efficiency in your home is important, the most effective way to save energy is to use less of it to begin with. In other words, cut back.

That means the basics: turning off lights when you leave a room, limiting the number of hours each night with the Christmas lights turned on, unplugging appliances that aren’t being used, and yes—it means lowering the thermostat. Not just at night and during the day while you’re at work, but when you’re at home, too. The Dept. of Energy estimates annual savings of up to 10% simply by turning your thermostat down seven to ten degrees for periods of eight hours a day during the winter. That translates to roughly one-percent savings for every temperature degree lowered. Over the course of an entire winter, that adds up to serious savings.

The Bottom Line: A sweater and turtleneck can make up for a missing degree or two, and they don’t add one penny to your heating bill.

Energy-Efficiency Myths to Avoid:

As with anything, when it comes to energy efficiency there is a lot of misinformation out there. You can save yourself time, money, and frustration by avoiding the myths we’ve debunked for you here:

DON’T section off your house by closing air register vents: Doing so increases pressure inside your duct system, which causes your furnace blower to work harder to move air, thereby using up larger amounts of energy—the stuff you’re trying to save. The added pressure can also cause existing duct leaks to worsen, wasting even more energy.

DON’T set the thermostat higher to heat your home faster: Your heat system raises the temperature of your home at the same rate, no matter what. This practice only increases the chance that you will waste energy overheating your house.

DON’T use electric space heaters as a means of saving energy: Space heaters will only ever add to the total amount of energy your home is using. They are less effective than central heating systems, and are almost always used in addition to central heat.

DON’T believe “off” is the same as unplugged: Sometimes called “phantom” or “vampire” costs, plug-in electronics continue to suck energy even when they’re turned off or put into “sleep” mode. Appliances like floor lamps, microwaves, toasters, phone chargers, and desktop computers fall into this category. The only way to stop them from using energy is to unplug.

DON’T just lower the thermostat while you’re out of the house: Instead, turn it off completely. The misconception is that you’ll use more energy heating a cold house than a merely cool one. Wrong! Think of it in terms of off versus on: you save more during the nine hours you’re at work and the thermostat is off than you’ll spend re-heating the house that evening.

 

By 4G Design Build, Garrett Simmons